We do not need Einstein to tell us that time is variable, or can “bend.” A half hour having a tooth pulled is much longer than a half hour having a drink with friends. Here in New York on New Year’s Day, the Q line extension on Second Avenue was opened, saving subway commuters a couple of minutes to travel about two miles. It cost billions of dollars, as did the Number 7 extension that saved a few minutes from Grand Central to us in Hudson Yards. It is rather like last year’s computer that seems impossibly slow compared to the latest model. This is not quite what physicists mean by the relativity of time, but you get the point.
The Psalmist asked, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3) It is a good question, considering the mind-boggling size of creation. Light travels 5,865,696,000,000 miles per year. The star closest to us is about four light years away. The edge of the universe is about 15 billion light years away.
Early in the third century, when the first native African emperor of Rome, Septimius Severus, was massacring Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, two stars collided so far away that the light from that cataclysm will be visible to us only five years from now. This “Red Nova’ will shine in the constellation Cygnus, and its light will have existed more than a century before the bishops at Nicaea gathered to formulate words to express the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
The Church has celebrated the coming into time of the Eternal Word who made time. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). The Church now enters Ordinary Time, and the most extraordinary thing about it is precisely that it is ordinary: it is ordered by the divine mind that speaks through Jesus, who has no beginning or end.
Saint Paul knew no more about natural physics than Thales of Miletus or Aristarchus of Samos, but he encountered the risen Christ, and then declared by holy inspiration: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Given all the ups and downs of history, one might ask why Jesus waited so long to come among us. It is a loftier way of asking why we need to wait so long to go from Times Square to 11th Avenue. From the perspective of eternity, our Lord is infinitely patient in replying: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).